I heard a story some years ago about a boat, a fishing boat. A pair of brothers, amateur archaeologists, in northern Israel, around the Sea of Galilee were digging in the mud flats – a consequence of drought and the lowering of the lake’s water level. They stumbled upon a buried boat in the mud. The Israel Department of Antiquities were brought in and the boat was painstakingly removed over a 2-week period. It was carefully handled, and the delicate, ancient wood protected with various chemical treatments. The boat has been extensively studied and clearly comes from the era of the 1st Century and is an example of the type of boat used in the time of Jesus by several of the disciples who were fishermen.
One of the possible scenarios to this story is that the fishing boat was simply abandoned during the reign of Herod Antipas, who built a new capital city on the shores of the lake and called it Tiberius after the Emperor. The lake was commercialised, and the state governed who could fish under license and the limits of their catch. There was exorbitant taxation and all fish belonged to the state. The local fishermen, usually in family clans seeking to feed their family, were forced to register and hand over their catch to the state. They were given a little money after taxes were collected and they had to buy back fish for food. Life became very difficult for such fishermen and some simply walked away from the oppressive requirements of the Roman Empire. Either way, stay or go, it was a tough situation. We wondered about the original owners of this boat. It has evidence of extensive repairs and long use. Perhaps when everything became too economically difficult, they took what was valuable from it and walked away to another life??! There had been security and familiarity in the family traditions of fishing on the lake. It fed villages and sustained the micro-economic structures of the villages, clans… Oppressive regimes tore this apart. Life became harder and less secure.
The origins of the word, ‘Security’ comes from late Middle English: from Old French securite or Latin securitas, from securus ‘free from care.’ It is most commonly understood as freedom from threat or danger and it is prominent in most people’s minds and experience. We want freedom from danger and threat for ourselves, our family, our community and nation. We may dream of a hope of freedom from fear and danger for all people, even though it feels like an empty hope, a fantasy. We seem to have narrowed this meaning down to danger and threat, from its more original meaning of freedom from care (or worry and anxiety). There remains a pervading sense of anxiety and fear across our society – a pandemic resulting in a variety of levels of symptomology and responses. We all live with an inner tension and high levels of stress. We are in a state of unparalleled change and movement, of shifting technologies and expectations, of materialistic growth and focus that is unprecedented.
There is more insecurity, both in terms of internal feelings and stresses and outward threats and dangers, perceived or real. There is more anxiety and uncertainty and we don’t know how to deal with this. We feel the pressure to be in control and be on top of everything and have not learned how to negotiate mess, paradox and ambiguity. The chaos of modern life that requires us to hold many things together and live within paradox and uncertainty, stresses us and causes anxiety because we do not know what we ought to do – and there is intense pressure to ‘know’ what we are supposed to be and do. The younger generation, especially males, are struggling within the complex array of possibilities that keep growing and changing, to know what they are meant to do and be.
The inability to live with paradox and within mess, also challenges our ability to release ourselves into mystery and wonder, to be drawn into awe-filled moments and experiences. This is the spiritual dimension of life that is our yearning across Western society but confused and held at arm’s length over and against the materialistic, secure systems of life that feel so much more insistent and immediate. We feel more secure behind larger bank accounts, more material possessions, then bigger fences, stronger locks, security systems and even gated communities. We are more secure within certainty even when we are less content, creative and joyful in our lives. The more material values pressure us, the more we feel internal stress and the barrenness of an empty spiritual capacity. We also find ourselves defined by these things – how much and what we have accumulated; our education attainments; our career or profession; skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, ability/disability, mental health… Too often we are defined, and confined, by what we do or what we look like or our particular capacities or what we know. ‘What do you do?’ ‘Where do you live?’ ‘Where did you study?’ These are the types of defining, comparative questions asked of each other. They also confine us to categories that are not us.
Luke tells a story of Jesus and would-be disciples in Luke 5:1-11. A crowd gathered and Jesus got into a fishing boat. and asked Simon to push out a little from shore, where he spoke to the crowds and taught them. Jesus then told Simon to push out into deeper water and throw his nets over. Simon was tired from a poor night of fishing where few fish were caught. He began to protest but relented – something in Jesus convinced him! The nets came up filled with more fish than they could contain, and he called for the other boat. Both were overfilled and Simon was amazed. In this moment he saw beyond what was, a glimpse of another possibility, something bigger, awe-filled and inexplicable. In this moment he came face to face with deep wonder and things of Spirit. He knelt before the wonder and Jesus invited him and the others to follow into a different, deeper way where definition broke down. The story says they left everything and followed Jesus.
This wonderful story speaks into life that is defined and confined by powers and forces beyond us, and by what we do or have or look like or our status… We are invited into the place where we are. It is a deeper reality of being that recognises the freedom and joy for which we yearn is not contained in the ways we define and limit ourselves based on the superficial categories of the world around us. I am not defined by a career or education, or asset register (or lack thereof), what I can/can’t do… I am not a category and my freedom does not depend upon someone else who wants to express power over me or limit me. My career or job is a means to an end, but I have a vocation that is deeper and richer and transcends work, leisure, education and everything else. Jesus welcomed these lowly fishermen into a place where they could find life, love and being within a diverse and inclusive group of people who would journey with Jesus into the grace of God and find themselves in a new, deeper, richer way of physical and spiritual being.
I wonder about the owners of a Galilean Fishing Boat. Did they hear a story from a 1st century Rabbi and find freedom in the midst of struggle, oppression and defining power?